Human Rights Watch has said that the Egyptian government has “severely curtailed” the work of environmental groups carrying out work to protect the country’s natural environment.
Their statement comes two months ahead of the COP27 climate summit which will be held in Sharm El-Sheikh and hosted by the UN.
For months human rights groups have criticised the decision to hold the climate summit in Egypt where civil society has been quashed and there are roughly 60,000 political prisoners behind bars.
“The Egyptian government has imposed arbitrary funding, research and registration obstacles that have debilitated local environmental groups, forcing some activists into exile and others to steer clear of important work,” Environment Director at HRW Richard Pearshouse said.
“The government should immediately lift its onerous restrictions on independent nongovernmental organisations, including environmental groups.”
Since the 2013 military coup the Egyptian government has frozen the assets of leading human rights organisations and shut others down on charges of having links with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.
A web of legislation has made it extremely difficult for NGOs to get any foreign funding weakening some of the top organisations in Egypt.
In June HRW interviewed 13 activists, academics, scientists, and journalists working on environmental issues in Egypt, some working for NGOs. They described a reduction in the space for climate work since President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi rose to power in 2014 including being intimidated through harassment, arrest, and restrictions on travel.
Their organisations have faced difficulties registering as NGOs and due to the climate of fear and have not carried out essential field research or interviews.
Due to fear of the repercussions, dozens of activists have left the country or no longer carry out activism.
“The world needs more climate activism, not less, and there can be no such effective activism when the government treats civic groups as a threat, not an asset,” Pearshouse said.
“The UN Framework Convention member states and the Secretariat should press the Egyptian government to make sure environmental groups feel it is safe to engage in and beyond the COP.”